Campus & Community

Study says blacks, whites split on Clinton presidency

2 min read

As President Clinton prepares to leave office, a new poll by Harvard University and University of Chicago researchers has found deep divisions in the ways African Americans and white Americans view his legacy.

The poll, of 605 black and 724 white adults, was conducted for the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute/Center for the Study of Race, Politics, and Culture. The study’s principle investigators, Lawrence D. Bobo, professor of sociology and Afro-American studies, and Michael Dawson, professor of political science at the University of Chicago, found wide gaps between black and white opinion on almost every measure.

Among the study’s key findings:

  • 77 percent of African Americans and 31 percent of white Americans rated Clinton’s overall performance in the White House as “extremely favorable”;
  • One in 10 blacks gave Clinton negative reviews; while nearly one in three whites placed the president in the “extremely unfavorable” category;
  • A larger majority of black Republicans (60 percent) than of white Democrats (52 percent) gave the president an “extremely favorable” rating;
  • 30 percent of African Americans and less than 10 percent of white Americans rated Clinton “one of the greatest presidents”;
  • 1 percent of blacks and 21 percent of whites put Clinton in the “one of the worst presidents ever” category, and an overwhelming number of African Americans (89 percent) give him above-average scores; and
  • The sharpest disagreement between the two groups came when respondents were asked about Clinton’s character. Whereas 67 percent of blacks saw “his strong character” as important to Clinton’s success, only 26 percent of whites agreed.

Bobo and Dawson say that the single clearest reason for Clinton’s strong popularity among African Americans was his attention to racial issues.

They also counted the president’s handling of the economy, his “comfort with black people in black settings,” his appointment of blacks and other minorities to high positions, and his stance on affirmative action as important factors.

The full text of the report, including complete survey results and a description of its methodology, is available by calling (617) 496-5399.